After that emotional trip to the beach, graduation day at Aohama arrives more quickly than Taichi imagined it would. It feels strange for him to see Touma at school again- he’s been working at that live-in job, of course, so of course he wouldn’t be coming as much, but seeing him in the full spring uniform, tie crisp and shirt neatly ironed, still gives him a sense of melancholy, a wish that things at school could have gone back to the way they were after everything that happened.
But, of course, they never did go back to normal. Touma didn’t have to deal with any of the murmurs behind his back, but Tai and Futaba were still stuck with the people whispering and taunting them. Mami and Kensuke mostly leave them alone, thank god, but Tai’s had his share of needling from some of his male classmates jeeringly referring to him as “Touma’s little lover boy,” which he’s honestly more annoyed at for Touma’s sake than for his own. He never puts up a fight, though – the quick flush of relief of decking a couple of idiots in the face wouldn’t be worth the risk of losing his university acceptance, and he hardly has the physical prowess to challenge anyone anyway.
Tai, stuck in his thoughts of how deeply he wishes things could have been different, barely even pays attention at the ceremony. The national anthem, his call of ‘yes!’ when he stands up after his name is called and he walks up to the stage – his heart isn’t really in it. He absentmindedly smiles and applauds when Futaba walks, weakly cheers for Yorkie, Mon, and Omega, and claps politely for Masumi. His attention only perks up when Touma walks across the stage. He would have clapped for him, too, but the applause for him is muted, only coming from the teacher’s section – not exactly a shock, though Mami being completely silent is odd. Instead of drawing attention to himself, then, he gives Touma a thumbs up, trying to smile but knowing that it doesnt look genuine.
Touma gives him a one-sided grin anyway. It means more to Tai then he thought it ever could.
Tai and all the others head their separate ways, messaging when they can but often forgetting to keep up with it in the busy rush of their new post-high-school lives. He and Futaba don’t end up studying at the same university after all – Futaba’s ended up at a highly specialized botany program just outside of Tokyo, while he takes business classes in the city – but they’re both relatively close to the city, so they manage to keep up and go on dates around once a week outside of exam season. It’s a pretty normal first relationship, filled with ‘dinner-and-a-movie’ nights, a few concerts, a lot of just hanging out at the other’s apartment. They love each other, at least for a while.
Tai can’t remember exactly what led up to the last night with Futaba as his girlfriend. He just remembers slowly realizing that he can’t give her what she needs, what he wants for her. He knows that the two of them are drifting away, taking different paths in the same woods, and he doesn’t want to force her to choose the one by his side just to take away her dreams.
As the two of them alternated apartments every night while they worked their way through university, kisses on the lips slowly turned to pecks on the cheek, then no kisses at all. They still care about each other, yes, would do nearly anything for the other, but it’s simmered into the care of a platonic friend, not exactly a romantic partner. Being in the same apartment has gone from awkward, to romantic, to comfortable, and now back to awkward. It’s a different kind of awkward now, though – the first days of living together were freshly steeped and warm, but now they’re chilled and almost bitter, a cup of tea left out too long to cool.
The two of them decide to mutually split halfway through their second year of school. Mutually, but Tai’s heart still aches, for a reason he can’t and doesn’t feel like he’ll ever be able to explain. Futaba gets up from his sofa afterwards, giving him a gentle but sad smile before she walks to the door and leaves her copy of his apartment key by his shoes.
She pulls out her phone, swiping through the apps for a moment before typing something out, and then opens the door and walks out, barely making a sound as she closes it behind her. A moment later, Tai feels a buzz in his pocket, and he pulls his phone out to see that she’s sent him a smiling hamster emoji on Line and a small note that says We can still keep in touch!
He lies down on the sofa, his face pressed limply against some decorative pillow that Yorkie bought for him - “A housewarming gift, for the happy couple!” he said while nudging Tai with his elbow, a wide grin on his face. He doesn’t know how long he stays there, but it’s long enough to hear his often-absent roommate drunkenly crash into their apartment past midnight, thump into his bed, and start snoring. Tai changes his lockscreen from a couple selfie to an unobtrusive picture of a beach sunset before passing out at a point he can’t remember, head full of cotton and eyes inexplicably dry.
He doesn’t have the energy to talk to anyone at all, and slowly his drip-feed of a digital social life slpis away. A few weeks of minimal communication with Futaba go by, and he stops trying to keep in touch.
After work one night, a few months after the breakup, Tai heads to his usual bar, which he had made sure to pick for its proximity to his apartment. He doesn’t have to risk people from his part-time restaurant job seeing him there, and he’s glad for it. He nods at one of the regular bartenders, who knows his order by now – a lemon chuhai, heavily iced – and takes his seat. Or, well, he plans to, before he stops in his tracks.
Short-cropped, sunflower-blonde hair. The shoulders of someone who works out as part of their daily routine. Familiar, work-worn hands, rougher than they used to be.
What the hell are the chances? Tai slowly walks up to him before clearing his throat and calmly saying, “Sorry to interrupt your drink, but you’re-”
Before he finishes, the man turns his head, and his eyes rapidly widen in surprise.
“Tai-ch – er, Taichi!” Touma says in surprise, stopping himself before he can accidentally betray their friendship to the bartender and the businessmen sitting around them. He smiles a bit in apology and rubs his hand on his neck. “It’s been a while, huh?”
“You know Tai is fine, Touma,” he says, barely containing a grin that’s wider and more honest than he can remember giving anyone in months. “Sorry for not getting back to you much on Line in a while, I’ve been busy with school and work and everything.”
“Don’t worry about it, work has been keeping me busy too.” Touma pats the stool next to him, before realizing his mistake and shamefacedly getting up to offer his seat to Tai. “I didn’t realize that when I moved out here that I was living so close to where you were.”
“Moved?” Tai asks while propping himself off on the stool, Touma taking the seat to his left. “Aren’t you still working at that position that you took during high school?”
“Well, sort of? I got promoted and the owner had to convert my bedroom into a space for his granddaughter...it’s kind of a long story.” He rubs his hand on his neck again, clearly not wanting to elaborate. “The boss is nice and all, but I wanted to move out. For a change of pace.”
“God, I wish I could do that, I envy you,” Tai groans. “My roommate always hogs our TV when he’s home and won’t stop playing video games on full blast.”
Touma smirks. “I don’t know, that sounds exactly like you.”
Tai jokingly smacks him on the shoulder and the two of them laugh loudly, getting them glances from most of the other patrons in the bar. He doesn’t care, though – he hadn’t realized just how much he had missed talking to anyone in person, let alone his best friend. They talk for what feels like seconds but is really over an hour, a fact that he doesn’t realize until the bartender eyes them talking, with an expectant look in his glance, and Tai briefly stops their conversation to order another chuhai.
“Hey, so...” Touma sheepishly asks before switching to a tone just quiet enough to be inaudible to the bartender and the nearby patrons, “do you want to see pics of my boyfriend? I’d understand if you didn’t, but it’s nice to talk to someone who gets it, you know?”
Tai opens his mouth, then silently closes it. It should obviously be an easy yes – it’s been years at this point, they all have lives much greater than the drama of their high school years, Touma has a full time job – and yet the words are trapped beneath the surface, struggling to rise, like bubbles in the bottom of a tar pit.
He nods instead, plastering on a smile that he knows shouldn’t feel as fake as it does. Touma breathes a sigh of relief anyway, though, either not noticing or not mentioning it, which Tai is grateful for. “Oh, thank God, I’ve been dying to show someone these photos,” and he pulls up a picture of a toddler.
Tai nearly chokes on his drink before Touma quickly swipes to the left and whisper-yells, “Shit, sorry, that’s Seiya’s kid, this is actually him – stop laughing at me, oh my god, that was an accident -” all while Tai giggles through his coughing fit.
Most of the rest of the night in the bar is Touma showing off selfies and candids of his boyfriend drooling in his sleep. Tai tries to pay attention, forces himself to laugh at his best friend’s stories and anecdotes, but ends up staring into his drink half the time. His ability to focus is being drained by a feeling he can’t place but is strangely familiar, one that blooms beneath his ribs, flashing dark and hot at every new image he sees on the phone. Touma is happy, and he wants to be happy for him, but instead of basking in the warmth of his sun, he can only feel the shadow.
Mercifully, Touma notices the time, and cuts their meeting short. “Sorry, I’ve got work tomorrow,” he says with an apologetic smile. “Can we…hang out again like this again, though?”
Tai looks up quickly and nods, a grin returning to his face faster than even he would have expected. “Just make sure to actually message me on Line first, got it? I don’t want to keep running into you accidentally.”
A bright laugh. “Yeah, I should probably check my notifications more regularly. I’ll message you the next time I’m free, alright?”
Tai nods again as Touma gingerly steps out of his chair, and gives him a goodbye wave as his best friend walks out the door of the bar. He didn’t mention the fact that he and Futaba split. He doesn’t even know if Futaba’s already told him – if she has, she didn’t do it in their group chat – but he couldn’t bring himself to tell him on his own.
A few months later, while he’s sitting in the back of one of the larger lecture halls, Tai feels his phone vibrate against his leg. Hardly unusual, especially now that he’s gotten the strength to actually message people again, but he knows Masumi wouldn’t message during one of her classes, and he’s put his high school friend group on mute because of how damn much they talk to each other during class.
He sneaks glances around him, making sure that the professor and the people around him won’t notice him taking his phone out behind the desk, before quietly sliding his phone out of his pocket and looking at his notifications. His eyes go wide when he sees who’s messaged him.
Hey, can we talk? Something...kinda happened yesterday.
Touma never messages him during the day.
Tai’s fingers hit the keys before he fully processes what he’s doing. i’m down. see you in an hour after class at the cafe by the station?
The reply is almost immediate, a simple Sounds good. He breathes out, not sure why he’s as nervous as he is. He hopes it’s not serious.
The rest of the class passes by agonizingly slowly until the professor, mercifully, dismisses his students a few minutes early. He gathers up his materials as quickly as he can – thank God, this is his last class of the day – and slings his bag over his shoulder. He practically runs out of the lecture hall and walks quickly off the campus, making his way to
He’s definitely early, but he can see through the cafe’s window that Touma is already there, hunched over and staring down into a cup that looks way too small for him. His eyes look red, as if he’s rubbed them dry with his hands.
Tai doesn’t think. He just yanks open the door to the cafe.